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:al Series Vol. I. No. I. 

General Series Vol. 1. No. I. 

THE / 

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PAUL J. FOIK, C. S. C, Ph. D. 

Published by 

Notre Dame, Ind. 


Librarian of the University of Notre Dame. 

The earliest effort in Catholic pioneer journalism 
began in the first decade of the nineteenth century 
when, in 1809, Rev. Father Gabriel Richard of Detroit 
made possible the publication of the Michigan Essay 
or Impartial Observer. If we examine the conditions in 
the Northwest at this time, we see the absolute 
need of a newspaper in the vast and sparsely 
settled territory of Michigan. Its people were, for 
the most part, French, unacquainted with the English 
tongue, and many of them rude and uninstructed even 
in their own language.* 

Those who know the history of this territory in 
those early days will remember also the activities of 
Father Richard as an educator, f The establishment of 
this periodical was part of his comprehensive scheme 
for the enlightenment of the people of his own flock 
and of the territory at large. As an initial step in such 

* Contributions to American Educational History edited 
by Herbert B. Adams. History of Higher Education in Michigan 
Serial No. n by Andrew C. McLaughlin, Government Pub- 
lication, Bureau of Education, whole No. 174, Circular of 
Information No. 4, Washington Government Printing Office, 
1891, p. ii. 

t See Article by Rev. J. J. O'Brien in the Historical Records 
and Studies of the United States Catholic Historical Society 
of New York. Vol. V. Part I. Nov. 1907, pp. 77-94. 

See also Metropolitan Catholic Almanac 1855 pp. 43-57 
See also annals of the Propagation of the Faith 1800 to 1830- 



a plan for the uplifting of his fellow-citizens, the news- 
paper was perhaps the best means that he could have 

We may regard this scheme of Father Richard 
as one of the determining causes which gave o this 
country its first Catholic periodical. Another considera- 
tion which hastened its establishment was the loss 
occasioned by a disastrous fire that swept Detroit in 
1805. Hardly a building .was saved from the fury of 
this great conflagration. Father Richard and his 
flock were compelled to seek temporary quarters until 
he could devise some means towards the rebuilding 
of St. Anne's Church. With this object in view, he 
journeyed to Baltimore in 1808, and it was on this 
occasion that he purchased a printing press and a 
font of type. These he brought overland to Detroit 
and set up at Spring Wells in the house of Jacques 

Many persons have claimed for this press the 
honor of being the first one to be set up throughout 
the Northwest, but it is even questionable whether 
it was the first in operation in Detroit itself; for there 
were proclamations issued to the people of this vicinity 
by Lieutenant Governor Hamilton as early as the 
year 1777. These were dated from Detroit showing, 
presumably, that they were printed there. Strange to say, 
these were the only printed documents that were, over 
a long stretch of years, credited to Detroit as the place 
of issue. We may reasonably conclude from this that 
the Lieutenant-Governor's proclamation was dated 
from Detroit but printed elsewhere. Another press 
was owned by Alexander and William Macomb who 
received it from England in 1785; but there is no 

* Historical Records and Studies of the United States 
Cath. Hist. Soc. Vol. V., Part i, p. 85. 


evidence that it was ever put in operation.* It has 
been further asserted . that the Michigan Essay was 
the first paper printed in the Northwest. Various news- 
papers were already printed in the Territory before 1800. 
Cincinnati and Chillicothe early boasted of this means 
of enlightenment. It is known that Freeman and Son 
started a newspaper in 1795. Chillicothe established 
two papers about the same period. Before the close 
of the century at least thirteen were being printed in 
the Northwest, f That the Essay was the first periodical 
edited in that part known as Michigan is a well es- 
tablished fact. | 

Many misstatements have also been made regard- 
ing its real publisher and editor, j The regular collec- 
tion and dispatch of news in those days presupposed 
a widespread interest in public affairs. This qualifica- 
tion Father Richard possessed to a remarkable degree, 
as is well attested by every local historian of eminence;! 
but his religious duties and the extent of his missionary 

* American Catholic News, New York, Sept. lyth, 1891, 
p. 5. Report of Don C. Henderson's Speech of the Allegan 
Journal before the West Michigan Press Association held at 
Kalamazoo. Also Michigan Historical and Pioneer Collection 
Vol. 13, p. 394 and p. 489. Also the Detroit Free Press May 
30th, 1888. Also Historical Records and Studies of U. S. Cath. 
Hist. Soc. of N. Y. cited above, p. 86. 

f Circular of Information No. 4. Bureau of Education 
Serial No. n. p. 11 et seq., full reference cited above. Also the 
History of Printing in America by Isaiah Thomas, Worcester, 1 8 10. 

J Michigan Historical and Pioneer Collection Vol. 13, p .394. 

j Most reliable account is Silas Farmer's History of Detroit 
and Michigan vol. I. pp. 670-671. The author of this work 
went to Worcester and sought out in the Thomas Library 
this periodical; he had a photograph made of each sheet of 
the first and only issue of this paper. 

See Cooley's "Michigan," Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 
New York, pp. 307-311. See also Rev. J. J. O'Brien's Article 
jn Historical Records & Studies, etc. cited above. 


labors did not enable him to give his time to the pub- 
lishing and editing of this paper. He therefore placed 
the publication of the Essay in 'the hands of a capable 
layman, who could devote his time exclusively to the 
work, while the priest himself acted merely as super- 
visor.* That Father Richard was neither the pub- 
lisher nor the editor of the Michigan Essay is found by 
an examination of the first issue of that periodical. 
Probably he contributed to the French portion, but it 
is distinctly stated on the first page that the paper was 
printed and published by James M. Miller. 

A brief retrospect of the period preceding the 
establishment of The Michigan Essay will disclose many 
facts of interest, touching the history of journalism. 
Various methods have from time to time been used 
for the circulation of news, but we can claim for Detroit 
and its vicinity the most primitive stage of develop- 
ment, the ''spoken newspaper." Such indeed was the 
means that Father Richard first used to arouse interest 
among the people, which was afterwards to ripen 
into a more active and intelligent participation in the 
affairs of government. He appointed a town-crier, 
whose duty it was to publish, every Sunday, from the 
doors of St. Anne's, news items and matters of general 
concern to the waiting congregation and to the public 
at large. We are told that not infrequently, the crier 
announced even auction sales, horse races, and the date 
of the next fox-hunt. Sometimes notices were written 

* History of Detroit and Michigan by Silas Farmer. 
Catholic Periodicals published in U. S. A. Supplement to a list 
printed in Vol. 4 of the Records of Cath. Hist. Soc. of Phila. 
see p. 6. 

Campbell, History of Michigan. Tenbrook, American 
State Universities. Michigan Pioneer & Historical Collection 
Vol. 13 p. 394. 


and posted in some convenient place near the church. 
For a while the duties of the crier were fulfilled by 
Theophilus Mettz,* the sacristan of St. Anne's. Regu- 
larly, after mass on Sundays, he stationed himself on 
the steps of the Church, within view of all and there 
made such announcements as the eager people were 
anxious to hear.f 

Though the town-crier performed his duties to 
the satisfaction of all, his labors, nevertheless, were 
confined within narrow limits. In the first place, matters 
of local interest were his chief concern. When, per- 
chance, he did have news from afar it rarely circulated 
beyond the vicinity of Detroit. Consequently the 
arrival of Father Richard's press in the territory was 
hailed with great enthusiasm. 

As regards the paper about which we are chiefly 
concerned the expectations of its promoters soon came 
to naught. The Michigan Essay or Impartial Observer 
began its career on August 31, 1809. It was the in- 
tention of the publisher that the paper should appear 
every Thursday.! Exactly how many issues did appear 
we do not know. Five copies of the first publication 
are all that have been discovered up to the present 

* Theophilus Mettez afterwards became printer and pub- 
lisher. See Records & Studies of the Cath. Hist. Soc. of N. Y. 
cited above. 

t History of Higher Education in Michigan by Andrew C. 
McLaughlin cited above p. 1 1 . 

Also Records & Stduies of U. S. Cath. Hist. Soc. of N Y. 
pp. 74-94. 

t List of Catholic Periodicals published in U. S. Supple- 
mentary list. Reprint from the Records of American Cath. 
Hist. Soc. of Phila. by Rev. Thomas Cooke Middleton. See 
also Amer. Cath. News, N. Y. Sept. 27, 1891, p. 5. Speech 
of Don C. Henderson cited above. 


time. Some have concluded from this that the peri- 
odical immediately ceased to appear.* 

This initial number of The Essay has a history 
peculiarly its own. Of the copies still known to exist, 
one was possessed for a short time by a friend of the 
publisher, whose home was in Utica, N. Y. Perhaps 
it had been sent by Mr. Miller himself to his home town; 
for we know that prior to 1809 he had resided there. 
From Utica, it was sent to Isaiah Thomas, of Worcester, 
who was writing a history of printing in America. 
The following note, written in the margin of the first 
pa,ge of the periodical, suggests at least that there 
might have been more than one issue: 

UTICA, N. Y., Aug. 31, 1810. 


I send you this paper published by a friend of mine 

to insert in your 'History of Printing.' If he sees your 

advertisement he will send you more, perhaps, of later 


We have no conclusive evidence that more than 
one number was issued. f Brown's Campaign of the 
Western Army incidentally mentions that "only three 
numbers were issued," but this must not be regarded 
as an authentic statement, since the author seems 
merely to indicate that the paper had a very brief 

After the discovery of the copy already described 
three others were found in the city of Detroit. One of 
these numbers, held for over fifty years by Thomas 

* History of Detroit and Michigan by Silas Farmer, Vol. 
I, pp. 670-671. See also Records and Studies of Cath. Hist. 
Soc. of N. Y. cited above. 

t The Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collection says 
that eight or nine copies appeared but no other testimony is 
furnished to support this claim. It is accompanied with some 
misstatement of facts. 


Lee, of Leeville, recently came into the possession of 
H. E. Baker of the Detroit Tribune. Another copy was 
saved from oblivion by William Michell who discovered 
it among some old papers. A third copy of Vol. i, No. i. 
is at present in the Detroit Public Library. There was 
still another number of this issue in the old Detroit 
Museum. We may suppose that this remaining copy 
is still in existence although we have no accurate in- 
formation concerning it. 

When the Michigan Essay or Impartial Observer 
was introduced to the people it was a four page paper, 
nine and one-quarter inches by sixteen inches in size. 
The statement, so frequently repeated that the paper 
was printed mostly in French is unreliable. That the 
periodical was called the " Essai du Michigan" is also 
without foundation. An examination of the first number 
reveals the fact that there were only one and a half 
columns in French, and that the remainder of the 
paper as well as the title were in English.* 

There is nothing in the first issue to indicate that 
the Essay was to be the mouth-piece of the Catholics 
of Michigan. Its columns were open to any gentle- 
man of talent, provided he abstained from con- 
troversy. We can reasonably suppose, however, that 
it was the intention of the founder to reflect, in some 
measure at least, the opinion of the Catholic people 
in the territory. The most we can claim for the Essay, 
then, is that it was a semi-Catholic periodical. This 
conclusion is based principally upon the circumstances 
attending its establishment. Its chief purpose was 
to inform, to entertain and to educate. Articles from 

* History of Detroit and Michigan by Silas Farmer cited 
above. Also Records and Studies of the U. S. Cath. Hist. Soc. 
of N. Y. cited above. 


various newspapers, foreign and domestic, furnished 
the bulk of the news section. The items of foreign 
interest were taken mainly from the London Morning 
Chronicle and the Liverpool Aurora; and such infor- 
mation appeared four or five months after the events 
occurred. Incidents printed four, or five weeks before 
in the New York Spectator, the Pittsburg Commonwealth, 
and the Boston Mirror were news for the Essay. Strange 
to say there was not one item of local interest in the 
first issue of sixteen columns ; and but one short notice 
that bears somewhat of the nature of an editorial in 
which the publisher makes clear that he intends to 
assume an impartial attitude in political affairs, and 
invites contributions for his newspaper from all gentle- 
men of talent. 

It must have been the intention of the publisher 
to print from time to time the original verse or selections 
from the English poets, with the view, no doubt, of 
entertaining readers, and at the same time creating 
in them a taste for good literature. At any rate, we 
see in this first issue excepts from Young's Night 
Thoughts entitled Futurity; also two other poem< 

on Evening and Happiness. There were also prose^ 
on Politeness, Early Rising, and Husbandry. A very 
peculiar arrangement was made about subscription 
rates. One would naturally expect that city subscribers 
on account of their proximity to the office would receive 
the paper cheaper than outsiders. On the contrary, 
the people of Detroit were asked to pay five dollars 
a year ; residents of Upper Canada and Michigan 
four and a half dollars; while the more distant sub- 
scribers could receive it for four dollars. Advertising 
space did not exceed one dollar and fifty cents a 
square for the first three insertions and twenty-five 


cents a square for each subsequent one.* Only one 
advertisement appeared in the first issue, that "of St. 
Anne's School. The publisher 'also gives notice that he 
is about to print several works; among others he 
mentions ' ' Nine Days Devotion to the Sacred Heart 
of Jesus." t 

This periodical like a frail and delicate morning- 
glory lifted up its ambitious head to the rising light of 
progress but withered away in the noon-day sun of 
one hot August day. Why did this venture into the 
field of journalism fail so prematurely? It has been 
said that the Essay perished on account of insufficient 
patronage. J Perhaps if Father Richard could have 
given to this work his personal attention this project 
would have had a measure of success. Perhaps also if 
the subscription price was more reasonable the paper, 
small as it was, would have found many patrons. We 
know that journals of later and better times and of 
more advantageous circumstances barely subsisted, and 
some even suspended publication for a while, because 
they were not making expenses. 

Though the Essay was so early doomed to failure, 
its press continued in service for a number of years. 
Several publications of a religious and of an educational 
character were printed. Many books of devotion, 
tracts, prayer-books and catechisms in the Indian 
dialect and in the French, but set up in English type, 
were published for Father Richard's missions throughout 

* History of Detroit and Michigan by Silas Farmer, cited 
above. See also Records and Studies of the U. S. Cath. Hist. 
Soc. cited above. 

f American Catholic Quarterly, Phila. 1893 Vol. 18, p. 
98. See also Records and Studies of U. S. Cath. Hist. Soc* 
cited above. 

| Michigan Historical and Pioneer Collection Vol. VI. 


the territory.* Even the laws and the official documents 
of the Territory were run off on this small hand-press, 
and a biographer of good Father Richard states that 
"he always made sure that this work was properly 
executed."! For a while the type-setting was done 
by Mr. A Coxshaw, who came west in iSoQ.J General 
Brock's proclamation during the War of 1812 was 
printed by this press. After the war many newspapers 
sprang into existence in Michigan, but the one that 
still remains the proud boast of the people is that 
pioneer of them all, the Michigan Essay or Impartial 

* Ibid. Vol. XIII. Also Records and Studies of the U, S. 
Cath. Hist. Society of New York, Vol. V Part I, p. 87. 

t Cyclopedia of Michigan, Historical and Biographical, 
Western Publishing and Engraving Company. Article on Rev. 
Gabriel Richard, p. 321. 

| American Catholic Quarterly, Philadelphia, 1893 Vol. 
XVIII, p. 95 et seq. 


On p. 7 frfettz for M ettez 
On p. 10 except for excerpt 


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